Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Priests, Barefoot Preachers and Holiness

Father John J. Lombardi 

"Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ…the way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle." Catechism #2014/15

With recent events regarding priests in Boston-and around the country-many people are asking, What should be our response?

First, without hyperbole, let us remember, "Any crisis is a crisis of saintliness."

In other words, as usual, we need Christ-centered disciples and deeper conversion into His way of Life. This means union with Jesus through HOLINESS (a balanced and righteous life in Christ), SPIRITUAL BATTLE (making tough choices with gritty fortitude), and RENUNCIATION (separating from seductive evil and choosing the Lord's Gospel).

Along those lines, we need to:

  • REPENT: The Church must ask for forgiveness. This is the first message of John the Baptist and Our Lord (Mt. 3:2 & 4:17)-it begins the process of conversion. The Church-through her bishops and priests-need to beg pardon for the sins of priests who abused the young. Repentance entails: 
    • seeing and feeing the consequences of sin; 
    • making amendments accordingly; 
    • apologizing to those hurt. In pedophilia cases we must see how the "unenlightened practices" regarding the past have either been unquestioned or consciously promoted, thereby prolonging sin and hurting youth and parishes. Let's recall Pope John Paul heroically called Catholics in the Jubilee Year to ask forgiveness for past wrongs of Church members to begin the process of conversion and healing. The Pope teaches us to humble ourselves so we can come into right relationship with Christ and His people, which is the true meaning of righteousness/holiness (see Gal. 3:25ff).
  • REPAIR: After saying, "I'm sorry" to someone, we obviously need to repair the harm done. Penances help us to do this: the "nail" of sin is removed with confession; however, a "hole" (the effects of sin) remains to be filled, healed. We must remedy the past abuses of sin toward children and families by doing what Cardinal Law (of Boston) and others are already doing: providing Health professionals to review priests who are in trouble; to remove them if necessary, and to help the abused persons heal; also, offering financial reparations are appropriate. Only the Holy Spirit can do much of the needed healing-but the Church must try to do all she humanly can.
  • RESTORE: The Church can reassure the faithful-and public at large-by: 1) making sure harmful practices cannot continue; 2) putting safeguards in line to help; 3) keep us all marching on in the Church's mission: reminding us that, despite challenging tribulations, nothing "will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (+Rm. 8:35), meaning we must…
  • RENEW: We need more saints- both priests and laypeople. Through God's healing power-heroic people will re-animate the Church-as has always been done in our long, challenged history of Catholicism. While acknowledging the humanness of Church members

We likewise encourage heroic holiness and saintly renewal amidst them. Instead of responding bitterly, obsessively or resentfully regarding painful church issues, ask yourself, "How would a saint respond?" Perhaps there are more saints around than is reported because it's usually the bad things, or bad people, that get noticed.

The New York Times (2/3/02) recently reported how "Pope John Paul has recognized 455 saints and beatified 1277…in the view of may supporters, John Paul's attempts to democratize sainthood will be among the most important legacies of his pontificate." The Pope does not canonize so many saints to gawk at but to enthuse us into following the Divine Master and thereby answer the Vatican II call of the universal call to holiness…Three examples…

St Phillip Neri, amidst fifteenth century Roman decadence and clerical laxism decided the best response to the religious morass was holiness. He began giving talks to laypersons, organized concerts and festivals, and walked the streets to converse with people, all while stressing daily Mass, frequent confession, and service to the poor. He never despaired or attacked the Church, never criticized unjustly; but he rather saw himself as part of the solution-and embraced a new intensity for holiness. Along with many laypersons, he answered the call-by creatively making personal and ecclesial holiness the foundation of life (he is now known as the Second Apostle of Rome). Instead of giving in to desolation and gloom in those trying times, St. Phillip armored himself with unflagging hope and cajoled and encouraged individual people-priests and laypersons alike-to respond more deeply, heroically and consistently, to Jesus' total call to heroic holiness. We all need a wake up call to renew our love of Jesus Christ.

Dorothy Day answered the call of Jesus in the 1960's by turning away from communism, materialism and an agnostic way of life by becoming a Catholic, and then dedicated her whole life to the poor of New York City-and her Archbishop, Cardinal Spelman. Though she had an abortion and child out of wedlock, this did not enslave her; overcoming personal troubles, social dissonance and church obstacles her unwavering focus was on serving Christ through the local New York Church. Though she had a disagreement with Cardinal Spelman and often wanted both laity and clergy to become more evangelical and poor, she always led by example and always deferred to the Bishop and inherent sacredness of the Church, no matter how "clumsily" manifested. Now her cause is being studied for veneration and saintliness.

Another, current example is of a man who walked Franciscan-like into our lives recently and reminded us of the dramatic call of the Gospel. Carl-also known as "What's Your Name?"- Walks barefoot, wearing only a robe and blanket, and has given his life fulltime to evangelization. Walking from town to town, he inspired us with his gentleness, spiritual talks, and his dedication to Jesus, to holy poverty and the Catholic Church- amidst the many storms today. Steeped in prayer and the sacramental life, "What's Your Name?" illustrated the only answer to life today, to the world's problems and being a Catholic is holiness. Amidst questions of church doctrine and issues of "conservatives" vs. "liberals" and various spiritual factions today he answered by emphasizing love and a personal, total dedication to Jesus and His way of Life-without distraction! And regarding clerical laxity and abuses he stressed that the faith commitment of everyday Catholics is, really, underreported, underestimated, and personally inspiring to him. He said, "Everyone is called to be holy-and not just follow others. God has a unique call and charism (holy gift) for each person"

"Be not conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." +Rm 12:2…

What will be your response? … More heckling or more holiness? Jesus and the Church are counting on you…


"PRUDENCE is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it…Prudence is 'right reason in action' (St. Thomas Aquinas)." +Catechism, #1806.

Read other Sermons by Father John J. Lombardi